Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Germany and Ingolstadt

I made a lot of special arrangements for this trip and had some high hopes. Even my high hopes were exceeded in so many ways.  My flight to Germany went well though I didn’t sleep very much.  I arrived in Munich at 7:30am and slowly found my way to baggage claim.  After getting Euros out of the ATM, eating a sandwich and some German chocolate, I walked around the airport and took pictures of the buildings and the giant covered plaza out front.

The German train system is just as wonderful as I remember.  The trains are always typically on time and they are very quite since they are almost all powered by overhead electric power much like our light rail system in Denver.  The trains are very frequent and usually pretty clean. When I was waiting for the train from Ingolstadt to Nuremberg, I was talking with a German social worker named Simon who said that the trains are frequently late.  The trains occasionally had some problems but overall I still think that they still have a great system since you can get almost anywhere by train. I got on the train at 9:30am and got to Ingolstadt Hauptbahnhof (central train station) and walked the two miles to the Enso Hotel next to their hockey arena.  I didn’t realize how popular hockey was in Germany but apparently lots of cities have teams.  I tried to stay away for awhile but eventually I took a short 5 hour nap.  Woke up and walked to a doner kebab stand (they are kind of like gyro sandwiches but spicy chicken or lamb) then went back to the hotel, watched a some German TV and then slept for most of the night.  I woke up around 5am and headed to the Backerei (bakery) down the street for a Schokoladecrossaint (chocolate crossaint) and then walked into the Stadtmitte (city center).

It was foggy and around 50 degrees but the fog made everything look good.  It cleared up when I got into the old part of Ingolstadt and I stopped in at the Moritz Cafe at the Rathausplatz (City Hall Plaza) and had some coffee and a roll.  The waitress was originally Irish but have lived in Germany for 24 years so I talked with her awhile.  The fog was gone and the light was better even though it was still cloudy (nublich) so I walked around and took pictures before my meeting with former mayor (Oberburgermeister) Peter Schnell.

Peter was mayor from 1972 to 2002 and a member of the German parliament prior to that.  He was actually one of the youngest when he was elected. I felt very lucky to be able to spend parts of two days with him.  I learned a lot about some of the issues in Germany and German perspectives on life and politics.  We met at the Moritz CafĂ© at the Rathaus (City Hall) at 11am and between my broken German and his broken English, we communicated just fine.  We talked about American-German political similarities and differences for awhile as we drank coffee and waited for Ingolstadt’s planning director to come down and meet with us.  Peter and I discussed the need for everyone in our societies to work toward the future and the betterment of humanity.  Some of the news that fed into that was the extensive coverage of the execution of the prisoner in Georgia.  There were posters everywhere calling for the stay of his execution.  Most Europeans see execution as a barbaric and old practice given how much death and killing there was here during the previous two world wars. As I talked with many Germans, they still have a big sense of guilt for the last two world wars.  The older politicians that I met seemed to feel a great sense of regret even though they were very young children by the time the war was over.  Even Fabian, a 26 year-old that gave me a tour of Nuremberg today, had a lot to say about how terrible things were.  I will talk more about Fabian later.  Overall, I learned a lot about how the massive destruction during the war affected the way German society operates today and how it affected the shape of their cities.  Nuremberg was nearly 60% destroyed and so they had an opportunity to modernize when they rebuilt.  Fabian told me about how much the American GIs did to help rebuild Germany after the war and it took a long time for Germany to rebuild.  According to the chief planner in Erlangen, even in Berlin and Leipzig, there are still some areas that sit vacant after being destroyed over 65 years ago and were never rebuilt because German refugees moved to southern Germany to escape the Soviets near the end of the war.  I never brought up World War II but was frequently part of the planning discussion because it reshaped German cities and gave an opportunity for redevelopment.

Peter Schnell told me a lot of stories about his life and a lot of history about the town.  He is in his mid-70s and was nine years old when world war two ended.  During the war, his family was living out in the Bavarian countryside near Neueberg (sp?).  One day, he was with a nine year-old girl and they went to the bakery to get a cake.  They were carrying it between them and suddenly a plane flew down and started to shoot up the town.  Bullets rained down around them and a bullet passed through the cake that they were carrying.  While they were happy to be alive, they were very upset that the cake had a hole ripped through it and they had to go back and get another one.  I understood that many grew up with these events happening frequently and so they were used to it.  His family (and other Germans as I learned) were war weary well before the end of the war.  They were very happy when the American soldiers came and said they were all very nice.  For Peter, the most amazing about the soldiers coming was seeing a black soldier because he had never seen anyone other than a white man before.  Ingolstadt was heavily bombed during the war because it was a major military center in Bavaria.  This left a lot of places for new buildings but as with many German cities, they decided to rebuild with a similar style to what was there before.  After the war, lots of Germans fled the Soviet controlled areas and moved into Bavaria so this added to the existing housing shortages.  I also learned that because many of the men were dead, women did a lot of the rebuilding in German cities and this dramatically changed the role of women in German society as well.

One the the biggest impacts on Ingolstadt has been Audi.  Audi had been in east Germany and moved to Ingolstadt.  They began to rebuild their company in 1949 within a former military building.  Unfortunately, I have to pause here.  It's late and my internet connection is not very good for downloading pictures.  Tomorrow morning I will take the train to Munich and then fly to San Diego.  More to come soon!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last Post for Burning Man

I spent the rest of the trip with the Brits and Italians.  The Italians were cooking lots of great food all the time and the Brits kept having me stay in their RV since they had extra room and too much food.  Even with my help, they still had too much food.  As soon as the sun went down each night, we would get on our bicycles and turn on whatever lights we had (I strapped two solar garden lights to my handlebars) and heading off into "the playa."  The artwork in the central plaza was incredible at night.  I found a really good video on youtube of one of my favorite art cars at night.  This one is called “Steampunk Octopus” and it would actually shoot out fire while driven around the camp.  It appeared to be made out of scrap metal found in the junkyard: old trash cans, metal venting, corrugated metal, and so on.  Someone had some good video of it here:

I took some video of another installation that was really impressive.  The lights cast from the orb at the top of the structure shed light on the ground up to a couple hundred feet away from it.  At night, if you focused on the lights on the ground it would give you that same sensation that you can get at IMAX films where you feel like you are moving.  While I was there, two guys were each driving around some kind of dragon vehicles make out of internally illuminated plastic barrels on wheels.

There was a vehicle that looked like a large shopping cart and I laughed every time I saw it.  It’s surreal and hilarious to watch someone cruising around a desert in what when lit up looks like a 15 ft tall shopping cart.  I saw someone driving around an island with palm trees, a large fur covered polar bear, and a huge green boom box.  As I've said before, some pretty creative people show up to this.  There was one installation that was a Tesla coil being played as a musical instrument…

While the artcars were typically whimsical, much of the art kept with this year's theme of "Rites of Passage."  A significant number of art pieces focused on big events in life and in death.  The wheel with the skeletons was derived from Greek mythology where the dead had to pay the boatman to take them across the river to the afterlife.  The wheel was amazing at night.  It looked like the skeleton boatman was rowing in the strobe light and as if hands were reaching out of the water:

The Temple of Transition, Trojan Horse, and the Burning Man became testimonials to the major life events that people faced, and for some, the structures were confessionals as they poured their most profound thoughts and reflections on life.

Nighttime was surreal.  If you stopped out in the middle of the art plaza and looked around you, you could see thousands of lights decorating bicycles, art cars, and camps. You realize that none of this is plugged into the grid and is all independently powered.  Unfortunately, most of it is powered by gas or diesel generators so its not very sustainable.  However, nearly everyone is travelling by bicycle.  There were dance clubs all over the place and you could here at least 20 or 30 sources of music all at once.  On Thursday night, we saw some performers known as “fire-spinners.”  These people were incredible and we watched them for a long time.

Attendees definitely have a good sense of humor.  As a lover of puns and plays on words, I loved the tent that was filled with lots of chairs and couches.  That camp was called "A Shack of Sit."  Be careful when you say that one in polite company.  At another camp, someone had setup a stage with a large high-backed and comfortable-looking chair on it and a canopy above it.  Lights were pointed at the chair and a big sign hung above it with and arrow pointing down and the phrase "you can be the center of attention!"  My guess is that it was a camp of psychiatrists.  I saw that one while I was walking around with two of the Brits.  Shortly after we saw that, we saw a glow stick lying in the road.  Since the policy is that we need to "leave no trace," we bent over to pick it up and found that someone was fishing for people.  Once they started to reel it in, they called out to us to come over for a drink.  We spent about fifteen minutes talking to a group of middle-aged couples, jumped on their trampoline, had a drink, and then went off to find a place to dance.

Friday was the best day of the event for me.  I spent a lot of time looking at the art and talking to people.  It felt like the day lasted forever.  That night at midnight, the Trojan horse was burnt with tens of thousands surrounding it and watching.  It began with a lot of fireworks and very quickly the giant wooden structure was engulfed in flames.  Soon it looked like it was made of flame and not wood.  I had never seen anything quite like it.

While we were standing a couple hundred feet away, you could feel the heat from the fire.  Eventually, the whole crowd was cheering and dancing.  Some of the art cars started to leave so three of us jumped on the three-masted sailing ship with full rigging and rode around on it for around 90 minutes.  It was relaxing and it took us back to our part of the City.  Black Rock City, as it is called, is all arranged around the large plaza encircled by a street called "Esplanade."  Other streets encircle Esplanade in concentric rings that start with an "A" and increase alphabetically.  This year, the names reflected life events so that the "A" street was "Anniversary," B was "Birthday," Divorce, and so on.  Cross-streets came out and were named for times.  So the city started at 2 o'clock and circulated around to 10 o'clock.  I was near 7:00 on "Journey" and so I told people that my camp was at 7:05 and Journey.  This street naming system was very intuitive and so it was easy to find where you were going and tell people where something was despite all the distractions and irregularities in how people setup.

About midday on Sunday, Jaime and I decided to leave a little early.  The last event at Burning Man was burning of the Temple of Transition but we had heard that traffic would be really bad getting out after that as in 8 to 10 hours to just get to the two lane highway. Traffic is going to occur when you have 54,000 people trying to cram onto a two-lane highway.  I left the good company of the Brits and Italians and we went back to our camp to pack it up.  We had everything in the car by 3pm and drove through camp.  Of course, the continuation of giving continued as we gave away an unopened pack of cigarettes (neither of us smoke) and further along someone gave us Otterpops.  By 6pm, we were going through the In N Out drive-thru in Reno.  We took I-80 west to I-5 south and made it to a Motel 6 in the Central Valley.  It was nice to take that first shower and get as clean as I could.  I had Jaime back to Santa Monica by 1pm the next day and I was at my Dad’s in Encinitas by 5pm.  It was strange to be back in the real world after getting used to the alternate reality at Burning Man.  I would say this to people who think they would like to go to Burning Man: bring an RV to keep the dust out, come with an open mind that is ready to see the unexpected, and leave the real world behind and temporarily forget about all the related stresses.  There’s no need to email, carry money, or worry about bills and your normal obligations.  By the time you come back, you will feel very relaxed.  Burning Man is definitely not for everyone and I know quite a few people who would have been bored, annoyed by a lot of the lights and loud music, or freaked out by some of the people there.  For me, it was a great experience and someday I will go again.

Now it’s time to focus on Germany.  This is going to be a completely different kind of trip and I’m looking forward to it.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Burning Man: Part II - First half of Tuesday

We slept fairly well Monday night after all of the travelling that we did.  However, as we expected, we woke up to the sound of dance music at 8am from the camp a few hundred feet away.  It was still a fine way to wake up. After eating breakfast, Jaime headed out to explore Black Rock City (the name of the community formed at Burning Man which we were now living in).  I stayed behind to finish setting up camp and putting our artful 'tree' together.  On Monday night we just parked the car and setup the tent.  Tuesday morning I covered the car and tent with two attached 12ft x 15ft painter's drop cloths and formed a small shaded area underneath.  The goal was that the car would block most of the wind and the cloths would provide additional shade and protection from the dust.  I also built a small tree using coat hangers and pipe cleaners with an old car rim as the base.  The tree is also attached to the one of the wooden posts supporting the canopy.  On top of the tree I used about 10 solar garden lights to illuminate the area at night.  It worked fairly well and everything stood up to the wind.  The whole cover is tied down to ten 12-inch nails that I hammered into the ground.  In the picture below, you can see phase II; having people paint on the drop cloth to decorate it.  A large party of people painted it later (I'll have photos of that).

It was a modest camp but it worked.  I headed out around 1pm to check out the art as soon as I was done setting up.  The artwork was incredible.  These artists clearly put a lot of thought, time, energy, money, and even sophisticated engineering into these works.  The size of the central art space was immense.  It was a circle with about a one-mile diameter so it took a long time to ride around and there was a lot of art.  I didn't get photos of all of the art but these were the photos that I took during the day.  I'll have some nighttime photos and video that I took on later days.  I'll also be posting links to videos that other people took with much better equipment than what I had.

...A tree made out of animal bones.  Naturally, it has to be on wheels so that its easier to install the artwork.

This sculpture has two rings in the middle that spun in opposing directions.  People were frequently standing on one of the rings and trying to ride it all the way upside-down and around or climbing to the top of the sculpture.  The art was there for people to enjoy it in any way that they preferred.
...A totem pole made out of old oil cans.  This was internally illuminated at night.

This tree was close to forty feet tall and they were still building it when I took this picture.  At night, all of the pieces that were hanging down from the main branches had colored lights that looked as if color was dripping down towards the ground... no, I was not on any drugs if that's what you are thinking!

In addition to this sculpture, you can look off in the background and start to get a sense of how much spare there was for artwork.  I was slowly riding my bike towards the massive temple in the background.

Here you can see the Burning Man shrouded in a dust storm.  It was windy that day and lots of dust periodically filled the air.
...A large bundle of wheat?
...The word "LOVE" in large letters so you can climb on it.

At last, I arrived at the massive, four story, "Temple of Transition."  This is a temporary structure that was burned during the final evening of Burning Man.

The blowing dust always gave an artsy and surreal effect to almost anything out there, especially the temple.

Here I am in front of it.  You can see that I wore ski goggles and a neckerchief to keep out the dust.

It was an incredible structure to see in the middle of a desert.  Within the main chamber at the bottom of the central tower, a large number of bells, gongs, and symbols were being played automatically to create some sort of Buddhist-style prayer song.  You can see one of the gongs in the upper left of the photo below.  People would sit, meditate, sleep, do yoga, and hug in that middle chamber.

It was very peaceful there and the music was almost hypnotizing.  Sorry that I took the video on its side but here is a quick recording of what it sounded like...

I continued my ride to the Pink Heart Camp a short ride away from the temple.  Pink Heart was naturally, entirely pink. There were very comfortable pink furry chairs and couches but the key reason I went there was I discovered that they served Coconut Ice Cream with dried goji berries at 2pm everyday until they ran out.  It was some of the best ice cream and I had ever had.

In Burning Man, people give different things at each camp.  Some provided food like watermelon, lemonade and cookies, snow cones, and others provided classes on massage, meditation, or other random non-traditional courses on philosophy or belief.  Some camps were like schools with presentations by scholars on various subjects.  Others were somewhat booze focused and I was fine with that too.  I loved going to the camp that served bacon and bloody mary's at 11AM everyday, mainly for the bacon.  There was no money exchanged, just good conversation and good company with random strangers.  Despite everything being free, everyone seemed to pitch in to make things happen rather than exploiting or taking advantage.  There was a real feeling of community at Burning Man.  Everyone was very inviting and you could talk to anyone.  Riding my bike or walking down the street, people would always beckon you to join them at their camp and sit for a while and talk or share some food or drink with you.  I made sure to share whatever I had with people when they were at my camp as well.  There was no judgement and people would just accept you for being you.  I had never heard so much polite language with the words you should hear all the time like "please", "thank you," and "your welcome."  It was a welcome break from regular society.  Everyone was walking or biking.  There were no cell phones, laptops, internet, or money.  All you had with you was your ID (so bartenders knew if you were 21), an open-mind, and a good attitude.

Tomorrow I will continue our tour of the artwork and video footage and talk about some of the events that I went to.  Thanks for reading and I hope you have enjoyed it thus far!

Burning Man: Part I

I'm finally back in Denver and just finished unpacking yesterday.  Burning Man was an extraordinary experience.  Now that I have been to it, I better understand what former attendees had told me about it. I was told that I needed to keep an open mind while I was there.  On the Burning Man website, it said that "explaining burning man is like trying to describe color to a blind person."  I think that I can give a good description but it still won't be adequate.  Sometimes there were sensory experiences that cannot be described in words.  Over the next few days, I will give my account, post photos, and give links to some good videos that I've found on youtube that can add depth to the event.

On Sunday, August 28th, my friend Jaime and I finished loading up my car and drove north from Santa Monica up US 395.  It was a pleasant drive along the east side of the Sierra Nevada to Reno where we ate at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant.  During our drive, we watched the rain and sun intermittently drench the mountains.  We had great weather and it wasn't too hot.  This was comforting to us since we were worried that it was going to be really hot at Burning Man (since we were going to be in a desert).  Luckily, it never got much over 90 during the event.  Sunday night, we camped in some National Forest just outside of Reno.

This year, Burning Man was sold out.  I found out after that instead of 50,000 burners, over 54,000 attended.    It took about 6 hours to get in because of the large number of people.  However, we never felt too bored.  We were certainly eager to get in and get to it but there were lots of people dancing, walking around and "gifting" all kinds of things, and talking to their neighbors in line.

Jaime and I started to get a sense of what people had warned us about the dust.  It was like a desert made of some sort of alkaline powdered sugar.  The ground was made of a very fine grain, off-white dust that seemed very hard packed.  Jaime and I quickly understood that both of us and everyone else at the event were probably going to be covered in dust all of the time. Dust could get kicked up very easily and dust covered the inside of my car in no time.  We found out from a neighbor next to our camp that these were actually some of the best conditions in a long time.  This plain is a seasonally dry lake bed over 30 miles long.  Every spring, the lake is submerged in a few inches to a couple feet of water.  Apparently, the ground froze sometime close to when the last of the water was evaporating.  This made for a fairly hard surface that was easy to drive and ride bikes on.  Our neighbor had a geology background (as well as a master's degree and two bachelor's degrees and a part-time resident of Colorado).  We loved our neighbors by the way and I'll talk more about them later!

Still, with all of the people driving in and the wind over the first few days, dust clouds would blow across the camp giving the subjects of my photos a artful shroud of dust.  Eventually you get used to the dust, you wear goggles, some sort of mouth covering, and you almost don't notice it after awhile.

We finally arrived at the entry post around 6pm.  The sun was starting to go down and we were really excited. At the entry post there are greeters who have you get out of the car and give you a big hug.  They gave us all of the event materials and explained what was in different parts of the camp.  Lastly, they had us roll around in the dust and make "dust angels."  Then we got up and each struck a large bell.  It was fun and gave us a sense of how fun and wacky this experience might be.  We set up camp and I cooked up some Udon noodles in beef broth with Shitake mushrooms.  Jaime was tired after that so she went to bed.  I did a quick walk down to the central art plaza.  It was incredible.  I looked out across a massive expanse of desert swarming with bicycles covered in lights, art that was shooting flame, art cars driving around with live DJs, and people dancing at dance clubs.  I walked back to my camp thinking that this was going to be a lot of fun and a great experience.  I will write some more in another post tonight.